For the past twelve months we’ve been busy preparing for this year’s StoryArts Festival Ipswich (SAFI). The biennial festival offers a full and diverse program for school students that promotes reading and story-telling. As well as being hugely honoured to be a part of this great event, it’s a lot of fun!

The first step that we take is reading a mountain of children’s books to see what jumps out at us theatrically, and chatting to the festival director Jenny Stubbs, about what her vision for the festival is.

What a joy it was to come across Michael Gerard Bauer’s books including Don’t Call Me Ishmael and The Running Man. His Eric Vale series (and its spin off Derek ‘Danger’ Dale series) is hilarious, fast-paced, action-packed with some wonderful characters and a complex protagonists that don’t patronize or talk down to children about its themes of identity, friendship, self-esteem, diversity and bullying. The humour and warmth of the books is brought out further with its witty illustrations by Joe Bauer (Michael’s son), who has collaborated with his father on the whole series. We’ve used Joe’s drawings as stimulus in the rehearsal room, and they’ve helped shape the world we’ve tried to create on stage as much as the story itself.

Michael has been kind enough to share some Eric Vale insight with us, before ERIC VALE, EPIC FAIL is brought to life during the production's premiere at Studio 188 this September. 

Where did the idea of Eric Vale, Epic Fail come from?

Strangely enough, the whole idea for the book came from me making a typing mistake. I was sending a text message to my daughter Meg who lives in Melbourne and telling her that something I tried to do ended up being a bit of a disaster. I meant to say something like, “Hey Meg, it ended up being an epic fail.” But what I’d really typed or what it was auto-corrected to was, “Hey Meg, it ended up being an eric fail.” I didn’t notice it, but Meg did (because she just loves to point out my mistakes!) and then she said, “That sounds like a character from one of your books. And that’s what started the whole thing in my mind. I began to think of a boy, not called Eric Fail, but whose name sounded like the expression ‘epic fail’. So I called him Eric Vale and I imagined him getting called Epic Fail as his nickname and then all these epic failures happening to him. Six books (three Eric Vales and three Derek Dales) have resulted from that simple typing mistake. I always say that stories are all around us and that they start usually from tiny things not big ideas. Discovering a story for me, is a bit like finding one piece of a jigsaw puzzle and then trying to work out what all the other pieces are that make up the final picture.

Your son Joe does the illustrations for the books. What kind of process do the two of you have when working together?

Working with my son is a joy, but it’s not really like the way Joe once illustrated it! (check out the illustrations of Derek 'Danger' Dale below to see his transformation) Most of the time we tend to work quite separately. I write the stories and then Joe does the illustrations. Luckily we have similar senses of humour. Sometimes I suggest illustration ideas to Joe and I’m also very happy for him to suggest things about the story/manuscript to me. Joe’s a great comedy writer. With his wife Rita (Artspear Entertainment) Joe has written, produced, acted in, directed, edited and created amazing special effects for two full length comedy feature films. They also do spoof movie trailers on YouTube under the name Toon Sandwich. Joe’s Jurassic World take-off trailer which is called Jurassic Whoops has had over 2 million views and is still climbing. 

Can you tell us about some of the other characters in the Eric Vale world and how they’ve evolved through the series?

Well Derek appears in all the Eric books as a character that Eric himself has created and writes his action adventure stories about. He’s Eric’s ultra-ego, someone who always manages (usually in the most bizarre and unexpected ways) to be the hero. One way he’s developed is that his adventures have become more over the top and also he seems to have put on more muscle as the stories have progressed! When Joe first drew Derek he wasn’t quite as impressive. (See attachment) Joe also decided early on that it would be a funny recurring joke if Derek never wore a shirt. That’s easy for the illustrator to do, but now I have to come up with ridiculous reasons why Derek’s always shirtless in different situations! The publishers ended up liking Derek so much that now he has three books all to himself.

Meredith Murdoch appeared just a bit in Eric Vale Epic Fail but I really liked her particularly because of the way Joe drew her. So in the second book Eric Vale Super Male she plays a more starring role. At the beginning Eric finds her really annoying because she has strong views that often clash with his, but by the end of the story he sees her in a very different light. I like Meredith she’s smart, feisty and has a good heart.

Joe's later illustrations of Secret Agent Derek 'Danger' Dale shows that he's certainly packed on some more muscle!

What excites you about how Eric Vale has been received? 

I think in general the most memorable response to the Eric Vale series for Joe and me is how it’s been embraced by other countries. The Eric Vale books will soon be translated into five languages and sold in around 34 countries. We also like how Eric gets different names in the process like Eric Valente in Spanish, Alek Topa in Poland and Rupert Rau in Germany.

 What are you most looking forward to about the stage show?

I’m really looking forward to seeing the characters come alive on stage and seeing some of those famous Eric Vale epic fails acted out by this terrific cast. The other thing I’m really excited about is the addition of music and songs to the story. The little peek I saw at an early rehearsal tells me that this production is going to be one big EPIC WIN!


Read Michael’s blog here:

Follow Michael on Facebook:

Follow Joe’s production company ArtSpear Entertainment on Facebook:

Watch some of Joe's videos:

ERIC VALE EPIC FAIL will play from Monday 6 to Thursday 10 September as part of the 2015 StoryArts Festival Ipswich. There will be three public performances on Friday 11 September (6:45pm, followed by an artist Q & A) and Saturday 12 September (2pm & 6pm). Click here to find out more or here to buy your tickets. 


Over the past two years we’ve been fortunate enough to collaborate with some of the members of MakeShift Dance Collective in various projects. Last April Gabriel Comerford was the fight choreographer for our production of ROMEO + JULIET (watch Gabriel working with the cast here). In October 2014 Gabriel, Caitlin MacKenzie, Abby Johnson and a number of other artists recruited by MakeShift tested One Two Ten Project in our Performance-in-Progress series and went on to present a fully realised and highly successful production in this year’s Anywhere Festival. Caitlin collaborated with the SEVEN JEWISH CHILDREN team this year and choreographed all the movement for the play (read the review here). Finally, Caitlin and Gabriel were interviewed as part of our new ART MATTERS series, and shared some fantastic insights into the independent arts industry, the discipline needed to be an artist and how dance and the arts work to serve the community.

Dancer, producer, teacher and choreographer Caitlin MacKenzie shared some of her thoughts these projects with us.

What process did you go through to create the movement in SEVEN JEWISH CHILDREN?

I worked very closely with the actors and director to design a visual retelling or progression of the narrative. Using a mixture of the actors’ natural movement vocabulary with some basic physical techniques, we worked out a few short phrases that depicted the scene that (Director and Designer Timothy Wynn) was trying to convey. Most of the movement came from a pedestrian action or gesture which we then softened or included as part of a transition to create a dance or movement sequence.  

What was the most interesting thing about working on SEVEN JEWISH CHILDREN?

For me it was working with actors as opposed to dancers, my usual industry. I loved seeing how the cast interrupted my instruction and how they approached different actions. I also believe that the play is incredibly important and was really moved by the end result and excited to be a part of its presentation in Queensland and Australia. 

What was the most challenging part of the whole process?

I found it fairly challenging to work as thoroughly and in as much details as I normally would in such a short timeframe. Having only the few rehearsals that I had with the cast meant we had to work quickly and efficiently, no time to play, explore and then tidy and clean. It all had to come together within a matter of days.

What did you personally get out of collaborating with the team on the show?

I learnt a lot about working with non-dancers and had to work quite hard to be clear with instruction and intention. I really enjoyed that challenge. I also learnt a little more about the history of the Jewish people and found that the personal connection with the Jewish community through the cast was really powerful. 

You recently took part with in our new series ART MATTERS. How did you find the experience?

The ART MATTERS interview process was really fun! It is so important to talk about the process of art making, the strengths and weakness in the industry and current issues trending in dance and performing arts. It is also fascinating to hear what others think and what they appreciate within the scene. I really hope more experiences like this can be offer to wide variety of artist. 

Who would you like to see interviewed in ART MATTERS and why?

I would love to hear an interview with Wesley Enoch to hear about his personal journey within the arts sector. I would also love to hear from someone like Kyle Page the new Artistic Director of Dancenorth to open up the networks within Queensland and to hear how a young dancers transitions to Artistic Director. Or potentially someone from the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts who can discuss how they make decisions around the programming and the presentation of art within their theatre and performances spaces.  


Caitlin is a Brisbane based dance practitioner, working in performance, installation and choreography. She is co-founder of MakeShift Dance Collective and has been involved in all projects to date. 

Caitlin has performed nationally and internationally including in Guangdong Modern Dance Festival (China), ACT Festival (Spain), Brisbane Emerging Art Festival, Brisbane Festival (Under the Radar), World Theatre Festival (Brisbane), Festival Cuturel Du Mont-Dore (New Caledonia), Anywhere Theatre Festival (Brisbane), and Melaka Art and Performance Festival (Malaysia).

She has performed for Tami Dance Company (Brisbane Festival), Company MADO (New Caledonia) and Independent choreographer Bernadette Walong-Sene (Founding member of Bangarra Dance Company). She is a member of theatre performance group The Vertebras, performing in their season of Envelope in partnership with Metro Arts and Backbone Youth Arts. 

She was commissioned to choreograph for QL2 Dance in their Chaos project (Canberra, 2011 & 2012) and QUT for the Out of the Box Festival (2012) and has taught for ACPA, QUT, Brisbane Dance Artists Hub and Expressions Dance Company.

Through the support of Asialink and the University of Melbourne, Caitlin with Gabriel Comerford, were resident artists at Rimbun Dahan (Malaysia) for three months, developing and presenting a new collaborative and interdisciplinary work, Uncommon Ground. She has been awarded the 2014 Lord Mayor's Young and Emerging Artists Fellowship and looks forward to participating in the World Dance Alliance Global Summit in France and attending Impulstanz Dance Festival this year.


The Paratrooper Project

What: Phluxus2 Dance Collective present a dance/theatre work that invites the audience into an immersive space to interrogate how our military and political histories have imprinted our present and the stains they leave on tomorrow. Featuring Gabriel Comerford.

When: Sat 27 June to Sat 4 July

Where: Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Fortitude Valley

More info:

 Walking and Falling

What: QL2 Dance presents a dance performance looking at the experience of Australians at home during the First World War. Featuring Caitlin MacKenzie.

When: Sat 4 July to Sunday 12 July

Where: National Portrait Galllery, Canberra

More info:

The Human Detained

What: This concert presents the extended and completed installation of a collaboration between MakeShift Dance Collective and contemporary music ensemble Kupka’s Piano.

When: Fri 30 October

Where: Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Fortitude Valley

More info:

Find out more about MakeShift Dance Collective




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Following the showings of eight new works last year, we sat down with all the theatre makers and asked them what would have improved the experience for them. As one of the playwrights, I agreed with the majority of the group who said they would have liked more time to work on their projects. This year we have three creative developments scheduled with the intention of three different outcomes.

Our first creative development will be a week long session rehearsing and exploring THE THREESOME by Cairns playwright Liz Christensen. We asked Liz to share some thought on the play and her career with us.

Describe The Threesome in three words.

Sexy. Ugly. Funny.

What inspired you to write The Threesome?

Where do I start? Ha ha. A dream. My friends. Friendship. Uni. High school. That confusing time in your life. That age. New found freedom. Trying to figure out who you are and where you fit in the world.

What development has The Threesome already received?

I began writing The Threesome in 2012 through the Enter Stage Write program at JUTE theatre in Cairns. The program included group sessions with other writers and one on one time with Dramaturg Peter Matheson. In 2013 JUTE got a grant for a week of development – where we rehearsed for the first half of the day, then I’d re-write in the afternoon, bringing a new script/scene the next day; which ended in a Show and Tell on Friday night with audience feedback – it was a fantastic experience.

Who did you write this for?

Originally I was writing it for uni students. I remember when I was studying at uni as an actor we had no plays about uni available to us and very little plays with Australian people our age. I think there’s a lack of voice out there for the younger generation. This play is to give a voice to young people and I hope they will enjoy this play. However, I don’t discriminate, I hope it speaks to people across all generations but I think the swearing might be too much for some.

You’re a writer, actor and a director – do you enjoy one of these roles more than the other?

I just enjoy working in theatre. I enjoy sweeping the floors of a theatre! Each of these roles has different joys and pressures so I really can’t say that I enjoy one more than the other. At the moment writing suits me the best as I’m raising a young family. One of the greatest gifts I’ve been given in theatre is observation. Those rare times when you get the experience and learning without the pressure; it’s quite a treat.


Liz Christensen has been writing poetry since she was a teenager. She completed a Bachelor of Theatre at James Cook University and dabbled in scriptwriting but mostly chased the Acting dream. She got involved in JUTE Theatre Company as an Actor and a Director; and was encouraged to try playwriting as well. She has taken part in JUTE Theatre’s Enter Stage Wright program since 2012. As a new Mum she has found writing to be the best outlet for her creative energy.

THE THREESOME will have a showing at 3pm on Sun 12 April

Click here to reserve your seat or here to find out more


 Image by LeAnne Vincent Photography

Image by LeAnne Vincent Photography

My name is Cassandra (Cass) Ramsay, and I’m the Creative Producer at THAT Production Company. Both Timothy Wynn (Artistic Director) and I highly value transparency when creating and experiencing theatre. Thus we present... THAT Blog.


What is THAT blog?

THAT blog will be many things; a summary of some of our events, responses to particular issues, questions that are niggling at us and anything else that we feel might be appropriate to share here rather than via our videos or eNewsletters.

These writings will be a series of personal learnings and reflections, fully owned by the individual who writes them. It will also be a chance for us to see how many times we can make puns using the word THAT. Cuz THAT’s what we've been doing since 2009.

This blog is about bringing together many viewpoints, about sharing the ins and outs of different roles in the arts, about developing an appetite for the arts and community engagement and about celebrating what drives us and disclosing what worries us and facing what scares us.


Who will contribute?

I’m very lucky in my role of Creative Producer because I get to work with everyone on the team, and I also get to experience a unique perspective of the creation and reception of each event. Primarily Tim and I will be writing THAT blog, but considering how fortunate we have been in meeting some amazingly inspiring, intelligent and courageous people on our journey, it only makes sense that we invite our collaborators, mentors and supporters to contribute from time to time.


Can I contribute?

Sure! Shoot your idea to me at and let’s talk! Knowledge is power, the more the merrier, and all THAT jazz.


What other blogs can you recommend?

Here are our four of our favourite arts-related blogs - two from renowned companies and two from individual artists currently working in the the industry.


Sydney Theatre Company – Magazine

STC have great interviews and insights into their program on their online magazine; the articles supplement the viewing of each production – or if you’re like us and it’s a bit difficult to get from Ipswich to Sydney as often as you like, the Magazine also provides a way for artists to keep their finger on the pulse of all the happenings at the company. STC describe it as “a vibrant tangle of interviews, features, videos, podcasts, profiles, photo galleries, essays and archival material, shining light on the work that we do and the talented people working with us.”  Neat. And as Johnson's Shampoo taught us in the 90s, the best tangles are vibrant ones.


National Theatre

We both have a bit of a company-crush on the National Theatre, based in London . Their programming choices, the way they present their passionate teams and the pure magic of all their productions leave us so very desperately hungry for a theatrical feast. Their blog (and youtube channel and programs and National Theatre Live program) is incredibly informative and something that anyone interested in any aspect of theatre (including audience development) should get involved in.


I’m Very Tired and Cranky – Kyle Walmsley

Kyle is one of the funniest and most generous writer/actors we’ve ever met, and his reflections and reviews are a great insight into the life of a young independent artist. Kyle also shares our (slightly shameful) love of Dance Moms, so extra points there. I also have a feeling Kyle will become a unique and beloved voice of many an Australian story throughout his career, so by following his blog you can keep your finger on that beating pulse. Click here to follow Kyle on Twitter.


Creating Art in the Desert – Alysha Herrmann

Poet, playwright, producer, performer, teacher, activist, Alysha Herrmann has done it all. Alysha is a true artist who works with and for her community in South Australia. As well as her various writings on her experiences (and her stunning ability for insightful reflection on processes and programs) Alysha writes poetry and has a beautiful collection of #tinytwitterpoems. Alysha attends most of the playwriting and theatre forums that happen around Australia, and is the one to follow if you yourself can’t make it. She often tweets live and posts summaries of the discussions that happen. You can follow Alysha on twitter here